It’s Thanksgiving morning. You’re sitting with family and friends, basking in aromas of the day – savory turkey, buttery mashed potatoes, sweet pies. And from your television glows the familiar sights and sounds of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, winding its way through the New York City streets. This year, marking the 90th anniversary of this classic event, you’ll see performances by pop sensations Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake and Sting, to name a few. Stay tuned, because these stars will be joined by performers from our very own town: the award-winning Cary High School marching band.
    Cary High School (CHS) began its band program in 1955 and has consistently had the reputation of one of the top bands in the region. Born and raised in the area (but attending a rival high school), Matt Minick has been the CHS band director since 2000. Although the band marched in the parade almost four decades ago (1978), the excitement of being invited to this beloved event is a first for a new generation of students and parents. “The Macy’s Parade is an iconic American event,” explains Minick. “Having your band chosen to march is incredibly prestigious, and it’s on the bucket list for many band directors.”

The Road to Macy’s

Thousands of high school bands from around the country apply annually to be selected. In fact, Minick has been regularly submitting applications on behalf of CHS since 2005. The process is intense, and decisions are made based upon performance quality, style and regional consideration – and just eight high school bands were tapped to march this year.
    Because the bands are given 18 months to prepare, one of the first tasks for Mr. Minick after being notified in March 2015 was to spread the excitement to the 7th- and 8th-graders slated for CHS, as they would be freshmen and sophomores when Thanksgiving 2016 arrived. Then, of course, fundraising had to begin immediately, because the NYC trip would obviously create additional expenses to the regular fall marching season. In fact, the trip for the 180 band members and 60 chaperones costs about $300,000…but more on that later.
    Once fundraising was set in motion, it was time to choose the all-important musical pieces. For their one minute and 15 seconds in the Herald Square spotlight, the band will play the theme from The Incredibles. This inspiring piece of music was specially arranged for the band’s parade performance by nationally recognized composer Richard Saucedo. Along the 2.5-mile parade route, the band will also play three other pieces, including a patriotic medley and pop tunes Don’t Stop Believing and Uptown Funk.
    In order to prepare for the rigors of the parade, the band students began what was affectionately known as “The Macy’s March” during their grueling August band camp. Although they didn’t yet have their music, they would hold up their instruments and march around the school, gradually building up their distance traveled. “For the band students, marching in a long parade is unlike marching in a field show – it takes an entirely different kind of endurance in terms of muscles used,” explains Minick. The students began learning the music in September, while simultaneously learning music and drill (that is, choreography) for their fall field show and competitions. “It’s a lot for the kids,” he expounds. “Even though we are privileged to be going to Macy’s, we still have to work on the very thing that got us selected: being a great marching band!”
    In order to effectively prepare for their minute-plus on camera, the band actually has been able to practice on that famous Macy’s square…right in their own parking lot. “We had a surveyor plot out the logo design so we could replicate where we’ll be performing,” Minick said. “Sherwin Williams graciously donated all the paint, and some talented parents made Herald Square come to life right here at Cary High.” These dress rehearsals are key considering that the parade is viewed by over 3.5 million people on the streets of NYC, as well as more than 50 million people nationwide over the airwaves.

Turning The Big Apple Green

So back to that $300,000 price tag. When fundraising began over a year ago, the first action item for the CHS Band Boosters (the band parents who help the band function) was to create a Macy’s committee. And the “Turn the Big Apple Green” campaign was born. According to Greg Kraus, the current Band Booster president and parent of a freshmen flute player, “We really wanted to get the kids invested in the fundraising process, so we encouraged student-led activities. In fact, different band sections have worked together to raise funds from bake sales, street mini-concerts, and even a spaghetti dinner.” Minick adds, “The students have done a great job taking some ownership of the fundraising, and were able to significantly reduce the fees.” These student efforts are combined with various parent volunteer activities at local venues, where their time worked earns funds for both the general band fund, as well as their respective band student(s).
    And the Cary community can also take part in this history-making event. “The Cary High School band is truly representing our whole town at Macy’s,” says Minick, “and we’d love for residents and local businesses to help support the students in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Every dollar donated makes a difference to help make this trip financially feasible.” (turnthebigapplegreen.org)
    The $300,000 sounds overwhelming at first, but it’s actually a pretty amazing deal considering the exciting activities planned for their week in the Big Apple. “For many of the kids, this is the first and only time they’ll get to visit New York,” says Minick, “so we couldn’t go on this trip without hitting the highlights!” The itinerary includes the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, a Broadway show, the 9/11 Memorial, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, and a Thanksgiving Dinner Cruise. The band is even giving a public concert in Central Park.
    Oh yeah, and there is that little parade on Thursday morning.

Julianne is the proud parent of a snare drum player for The Cary High School band.